Sunday, July 19, 2015

Missing your kids. Missing time. The prison of Divorce.


As a rule, I dislike music videos, unless they are live concert footage. Doubtless because I am a writer and I treasure words. I prefer to form a mental image in my soul from the words I read or hear, as opposed to having a meaning provided for me.
There have been exceptions, of course, but for the most part I have simply never found music videos to be as impacting, or evocative as the songs they characterized.
Sometimes, though, a director can create a video that encapsulates the lyrics without confining the impact. When that happens the result can be breathtaking.
Such is the case with U2’s Song For Someone.

Woody Harrelson portrays a prisoner, on his release day. He plays the role so well that I wondered if Woody had ever done time. The hesitancy. The fear. The doubt. The arrival of something so longed for, and anticipated, and yet so simultaneously frightening, was played with so much emotion that I wept throughout. There are few spoken words in this video –which is likely why it works so well- and this silence draws an enormous exclamation point on the character’s pain.
This is metaphor at its best. And for me…it was a metaphor for the pain that has come from divorce.
I have been divorced for almost sixteen years. My daughter was eighteen months old when her mom dissolved our marriage. I was thirty-four when she was born and had just turned thirty-six when I was forced into the world of divorced parenting.
For me it was prison.
I remember the first week without her, calling her one night, about three days after her mom had moved them into a house she shared with a co-worker. As soon as she got on the phone and I heard her voice, I collapsed in tears in my hallway. I tried to hide the sound of my sobs. I could only tell her I loved her, over and over. I couldn’t get anything else out.
There are men’s magazines that will prepare you for a fight over custody, and child support, and the distribution of assets, but they can’t prepare you for tucking your child in by telephone. Or how sleepless you’ll be, or the empty, aching hole in your heart.
I watched Woody Harrelson pace his cell, wash his hands, and take mementos off the wall. I did those things too. I took down every picture my wife had put up, but I couldn’t take my ring off for almost three years after the divorce.
I was still a prisoner.
I watched Harrelson flipping through a worn book of poetry, and then read a letter sent to him by his daughter –apparently many years before, when she was young- and I remembered the file folders and notebooks I still have. Every drawing, every note still filed away in a box in my bedroom. Scraps and pieces of the time with her, and the larger portion of time without her.
Divorce is a prison for a dad. For a dad that cares at least. I know there are those who abandon and disappear. I can’t speak for them. But it’s not most of us. Not by a long shot, regardless what the media and the feminists would have you believe. Divorce is a prison. I was its prisoner for 16 years.
The video progresses to Harrelson shaving nervously, trying to look presentable for his release. His jailer comes. He changed from his prison blues to his civilian clothes. The long walk begins. He pauses as he passes an incoming prisoner…maybe seeing himself all those years before.
I’ve done that. I’ve comforted my friends who’ve walked this path and through my divorced dad blog I’ve offered comfort to thousands of broken, hurting dads.
And seen my younger self in every one.
He pauses again as the exit gate approaches. He breaks down in sobs. Freedom is frightening when you’ve been imprisoned for so long.
The final minutes of the video are the most painful. Woody’s daughter picks him up outside the prison and he offers an awkward hug. She shrinks back from his touch and offers a handshake instead. Harrelson understands her hesitance and hides his disappointment. After enough time, you simply accept the things that come with prison…or divorce. After enough time you learn to mask your pain and disappointment from your kids.
They drive off, exchanging small talk and pleasantries and trying to hide the obvious and enormous uncomfortable air they are both breathing. I cried again.
My daughter is seventeen now. She was so young when we divorced that she only knows single parenthood. She had two Christmases with both her parents. She had three birthdays where we were celebrating with her. Once her mom remarried, I was the odd man out. I saw her once a week and every other weekend…but I didn’t tuck her in every night. I didn’t cook her dinner or help with her homework or take the training wheels off her bike. Her mom made sure those things never happened on my weekends or my Wednesday.
Now she is an adult and she lives with me. She starts college in August, and while having her full-time is better, and some wounds are healing, there are some that have simply become callouses.
In 2008 when the world collapsed and I lost my career and then my home, she lost too. She no longer had a home to go to with her daddy. I had to give our dogs away. We had no weekend visits. I stayed when leaving would have been easier, at least financially. I slept in the back of a 1996 Yukon and did odd jobs. I worked at rebuilding my life and mainly, I stayed in hers.
I could have moved back home and worked for my cousins or moved to North Dakota and made a ton of money in the oil fields. But I know human nature. You start making money and rebuilding your life and eventually that is your life. Then you become a telephone father, calling every few weeks to check in, dutifully sending a check and seeing your kid for two weeks every summer.
It’s prison all over again.
I knew this, so I stayed in Nashville, where we lived for seventeen years. I stayed. I shivered on a lot of winter nights and sweltered on a lot of summer nights. I walked. I went hungry. I studied in my car and got my bachelor’s degree. I wrote. I started a business. But I couldn’t do that one thing that would turn the corner for me and get me out of the truck and into a home.
In May of last year, my daughter and I moved here to Lynchburg, Virginia. In August I was hired by my alma mater and we started rebuilding yet again. In many ways, my daughter is the same as the daughter in the video. She loves me, and she knows I love her. But she missed so many important years after the divorce and even more after I became homeless. We’re not nearly as estranged as the father and daughter in the video but it feels that way sometimes, regardless.
I love my daughter. In my heart, I still see her as the ringlet-curled, little blonde girl she was when her mom and I divorced. Or when she was seven and life was great and I bought her a pony for her birthday and we had a nice home and a garden and two Springer Spaniels.
But she is not that little girl anymore.
She is a college freshman, and I will be fifty-two this fall. And in many ways, I’m still that prisoner, hesitantly facing release and wondering what is out there for me. I never remarried. Never really got close. I focused on my daughter, and being her dad. Maybe a few of those prison walls were my own creation because of those choices. I don’t know. But I know that most divorced dads feel this way. Most divorced dads feel like prisoners. Heck they even call it “visitation” when see have our kids.
Just like prison.
Most dads are nervous and insecure as their kids get older and they start staring into the vacuum left by the time they’ve missed. Most dads have some keepsakes and some mementos stashed away to remind them of a time when they felt like real dads.
Not like prisoners.

Woody, Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam…
I doubt you’ll ever read this blog or know of its existence. I don’t know if this is what you had in mind when you wrote the song and created this video. But this is how it hit me. And I think this is how a lot of dads are seeing this as well.

Thanks for that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Letter to my Daughter

Your first Christmas, you were only six months old.
Being a dad for the first time was the only present I needed.
You had no idea what was going on, but your mom and I did.
Every smile. Every laugh. Every single second was a Christmas present from God to me.

By your second Christmas, we weren’t a family anymore. You were still too young to realize what was going on in your world, but I knew. I knew you’d never have a Christmas again the way it was on your first one. Never again with both your mom and me together with you. I swore I’d never introduce the word “divorce” into your world. I can’t remember being more sad at Christmas than I was that year.
But I had you… and that made it Christmas.

The years flew by. On the Christmases you were with me it was joyous. We went home every year. Remember the first time I took you to Wannamaker’s in Philly and showed you the lights? The very same lights I went to see when I was just a little boy. We have always been great connoisseurs of Christmas lights, you and I, and with technology being what it is; you weren’t as impressed with the Wannamaker light display as I was as a child. But you smiled and we took pictures and made a day of it. I wished the monorail was still there. And the big toy department.  You were always so happy. Always so caught up in Christmas, like I was when I was that age. To be honest, you helped me survive those Christmases.
All I ever wanted for my whole life was to create the family I didn’t have. The home I never knew. I wanted you to wake up every single day of your life, knowing…almost taking for granted…that your daddy loved you, that your parents loved each other and that home was a safe haven. Not the place you wished you could get away from. I couldn’t give you that. That wasn’t my choice but I had to live with it just like you did.
You made it possible. You and Christmas.

You got older. Finding the perfect gifts got a little harder each year. You weren’t satisfied with just “Dollies and Dishes.” You loved music. Loved it. I don’t remember a time when you weren’t singing. Making up little songs in a voice that had no business coming from a four-year old. You were born with that gift. It showed up almost as soon as you could talk. Christmas gifts always included something musical. You still believed in Santa, and I still climbed up on the roof on Christmas Eve and shook sleigh bells and stomped around and “Ho Ho Ho’d” and called out to invisible reindeer as you shut your eyes tight and listened as Santa delivered his packages. I lived for those Christmas Eve, rooftop adventures. I loved being your daddy.

Just as you were turning ten, my world collapsed again. I was just getting back to normal. Just feeling like a whole man again after years of heartbreak from being divorced and missing you so much when we weren’t together. Then my world spun the wrong direction again and everything was gone. No job. No success. And not long after…no home. Our beautiful little ranch house in the country was gone. And with it, our garden, our dogs and our cat and your beloved pony “Silly Willy.” Gone. You were ten. I’d spent ten years very carefully trying to never fail you or let you down. But I couldn’t stop it this time. It was out of my control, and when you’re a dad, you are supposed to be able to fix everything. I always could. I used to make little repairs around the house and you would be so amazed at what your daddy could do with his hands and some tools. But this time, I had no answers. This time I was helpless.

That was the Christmas that you stopped believing in Santa. Your cousins had told you about him, and you told me late that fall. We stopped doing the Advent Calendars too. And there was no longer any need for the sleigh bells, or the ladder to the roof.
But it was still Christmas. We still had Uncle Franny and Cousin Toni and Sissy and Nick and Feast of Seven Fishes. And I still had you.

This year will be the first Christmas in about five years that we won’t spend together. You’re with your mom…and I understand that. I love having you living with me now, and life is beginning to rebuild. But I miss Christmas.
I miss you being little, and I miss being your hero and your favorite person. I miss making you laugh with my Winnie the Pooh impersonations. We won’t be watching Christmas movies this year. Or listening to our traditional Christmas music. Or decorating our house.
Our house.
I miss our house. I miss Christmas. I miss my little girl.

Next Christmas will be the last one before you go off to college. It will be like all the others you have ever known, except that first one. It will once again be spent away from one of your parents. I’m still sorry about that. It still hurts. I would have endured for your sake. I would have chosen to give you your family, if the choice had been mine.

I don’t know what future Christmases will look like, or where you’ll be. One day, some young man will come and win your heart. And you’ll begin your own Christmas traditions. I hope you’ll have better success at it than I did. I think I’ve been a pretty good dad. I think I did Christmas pretty well, given the circumstances. I wish I could have a few more of them with you. Like when you were little. Like the time we drove to the beach on Christmas Eve day and saw deer feeding by the side of the woods, and you turned to me and said; “Look Daddy! It’s Santa’s reindeer getting ready for tonight!” And you were pretty sure you saw Rudolph’s nose blinking. And for a minute I felt like the best dad in the world.

I miss you at Christmas. I love you more than ever, even as you’ve become a wonderful, beautiful young woman. But I remember that first Christmas. And how much promise it held. You are still the greatest gift I ever got. And you always will be.

Merry Christmas, Morgan. My beautiful Daisy. You have always meant Christmas to me.
I love you.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Missing Your Kids II

It's October 14. I've noticed the readership has grown a little since the end of summer. It happens that way every year. I think sometimes it's the impending Holidays and the knowledge that we'll be so limited in seeing our kids...if we see them at all.
I remember it well, men. My daughter has lived with me since May. We moved to Virginia and I took a job with my alma mater and her mom saw the wisdom in letting her come with me. It was literally a matter of survival for her. But I remember too well the 14 years before this. The endless pain of Thursday morning after she'd been with me for Wednesday afternoon. The way every-other Monday felt after we had a weekend together. I remember thinking more about the time I'd missed than the time I had with her because it was so tilted in one direction. Once a week for a few hours and every other weekend. That was supposed to be a decent substitute for the fatherhood I was missing and the hole in my heart it left every single day.
But she's with me now. She's sixteen and I have about a year and a half to squeeze as much as I can from everyday fatherhood before she leaves again to go to college. She plans on going here so she'll be in town at least, but it won't be the same. She'll live on campus and be her own person, as she already is, to be honest. So I have about 18 months. This past Saturday morning I made her strawberry pancakes for the first time in six years. It was a tradition we had when she was little and we kept running until 2008 when I lost my home. It's nice to do it again, but it made me think about the six years we lost. It made me think about the 8 years before that, when I had a nice home and a good job and pretty much anything I wanted except the time I wanted with my daughter.
Divorce is cruel. It's evil. It's vicious and it's repulsive and devastating to all the people involved. Even the party who wanted it and who believes themselves happier now...their soul was damaged too. They just don't know it yet. The bitterness will steal a part of their soul eventually. It always does.
It's hard being a dad who loves his kids and who walks through this life with a giant hole in his heart where they are supposed to be. I can tell you without question that I could not have made it without my Faith. Jesus did not make my pain go away. He walked with me through the worst of it and he felt it along with me. That's what He does. he gave me enough strength to live just one more day after the devastation of my divorce. And one more day after that...and one after that.
I don;t have a story of roses and honey and happiness all the time. I have a story of tears, and hurt, and longing. But I also have a story of making it through this barren wasteland and living again. 
That is what Faith does.
I encourage you men to reach out to the only One who can really help you feel again. You may hate Him right be honest, I did for a long time. He's okay with that. Take your pain to Him and let him deal with it.
Becoming His son is the best way to endure as a father.

God bless you men for continuing to love your kids as you do. Do not quit. Ever.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

For you dad's who miss your kids and miss your fatherhood...

I recorded this GREAT interview with former NFLer and now pastor Ed Tandy McGlasson as he discusses his books "The Difference a Father Makes" and "The Father You've Always Wanted."
Learn how to be the BEST dad there is, by becoming the son you were meant to be.

Click the link here: Interview with Ed Tandy McGlasson

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Big News...

I have several big announcements for you all.
1: I am RESUMING the radio show in June. I had to suspend it for over a year because of my living situation but...
2: I am relocating! My daughter and I are moving to Virginia next Saturday (5/17) God provided a job and a wonderful townhome for us. Since I'll soon have internet that I don't have to sit in a restaurant to access. I am excited about hosting the show once again and I hope you guys will call in and we can talk through this journey together.
3: I am moving WITH MY DAUGHTER. Her situation became such that it necessitated her moving with me. There is a lot to this story of course, but the one thing I would say from all of this...DO NOT GIVE UP! Remain in your child's life no matter what and I promise'll be there when they need you and it might be the difference for them.
I am so excited dads! I have a new book project for guys like us...hoping to get started on it this fall. I really want to give a lot more attention to this blog and to your emails and contacts now that life is becoming "normal" again.
Hang in there...
YOU are always the dad!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Big Lies about Dads

I haven't written in a while and for that I apologize. I have been busy. There is a new book in the works and some other new irons in the fire. But I sure haven't forgotten you dads.
I have been reading the emails and comments I receive here on an almost daily basis. My heart aches for you guys. I recently reconnected with a dear friend from high school who has one of the most excruciating and horrifying stories about the frustrations that dads feel when their fatherhood is not protected.
I can't relate it here because it is too lengthy. But his life was irreversibly damaged by the torture of a very evil woman with whom he had a child, and even more so by a single decision he made that altered his life forever.
People think that men don't hurt. They think we don't cry over our kids. That this life is somehow easier for us. That we don't really care about the time we miss with them. Not really. They think we don't grieve this loss and lay awake at night missing our children. They think we can somehow adapt to this life better than women can. That we are all deadbeats. That visitation and time with your kids and influencing them is of no value to us. They could not be more wrong.
I can't count the number of nights I lay awake crying over the hurt I felt missing my daughter. How many times I would call her just to hear her voice for five minutes. How many times I would watch the VHS tapes of her 3rd birthday party or our trips to the beach together. I would sit in her bedroom at night and close my eyes and feel her there. I poured out my tear-filled prayers from beside her bed, because my heart told me that if she had been, it was there that I'd be praying those prayers anyway. It made me feel more connected to her I guess.
Dads hurt as much or more than moms do. Deadbeats and malcontents get the press and the starring role in movies on Lifetime, but those images are a lie. Like all the other lies told about us.
Be strong dads. The lies become true only if we decide to live up to them.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Missing Your Christmas

Hey Dads,
I am sorry it's been so long since I've posted here. So much has been going on. I promise that after the Holidays I will resume my focus on this blog. We need each other, that is obvious by the number of hits this blog gets, especially this time of year.
I am leaving tomorrow to drive home to the Philadelphia area. I am so excited I might not sleep tonight. It's been a year since I've been home, so it's a long overdue trip.
My daughter is coming with me, and I am so happy about that. Morgan gets to go home with me pretty much every year. Her mom doesn't keep Christmas that much. Not like I do. And so Morgan prefers to come with me and stay with her mom at Thanksgiving.
I am a big Christmas guy, and not having her there on the few Christmases where she stayed with her mom was interminable.
I know most of you won't have that same blessing. I know that most of you will awaken Christmas morning to nothing but a longing in your heart and an ache for what is supposed to be. I understand. many of you will see your children on Christmas Eve or Christmas day but not both. Some of you will have neither. Some of you have bought just the right presents, and wrapped them carefully. They sit under your tree waiting for your kids. Your heart sees those kids rushing into the room happily, eagerly awaiting their chance to open those gifts and enjoy family life. Your daddy's heart screams to make this vision a reality. But most of you will have a modified version of this. Some of you haven't seen your kids in a long time.
I wish I had a magic elixir to take away the hurt you all feel, but I don't. I will tell you that the one and only hope is in Jesus Christ. He understands your pain. He has the grace it takes to get through these next few days and weeks. He loves you.
These five years of homelessness and loss have taught me this: That God has a plan. That no matter that may happen, He has not abandoned you. It hurts, it grinds you to your core, it brings you to your knees. But God will use even this if you will bring it to Him.
I will be praying for you. A few of you I have come to know by name, because you've emailed or commented here. But I will pray for all of you who read this blog and come here looking for some sliver of comfort in this back breaking pain we carry this time of year.
Every good dad misses his kids. 263 of you have landed here because of using that word in your search box since Dec. 1 alone. But this time of year, we miss them so much more.
They miss you too, dads. Never, ever forget that.
I love you guys. I am praying for you.